Editorial | Coming in 2013: A Faster Senate

December 17, 2012 

Talk to any S.C. legislator about the difference between the state’s House and Senate and the term “deliberative body” will likely come up within minutes. House members often mention the Senate as a group of people who like to call themselves the “deliberative body,” putting the phrase in ironic quotation marks as they complain about how long it takes for bills to get through the upper chamber. Senators proudly claim the term as a badge of honor.

Whatever your perspective, those deliberations might be a little quicker this year under new rules approved last week by the Senate. But they won’t be quite as quick as they might have been. And that’s a good thing.

The Senate voted last Wednesday to change its rules, limiting the number of bills that senators can block.

The new rule limits senators to objecting to no more than three bills on the Senate calendar. In the past, senators could object to an unlimited number of bills. If one senator objected to a bill, that prevented senators from debating it. The body also decided to limit the time that senators could take when introducing a bill. In the past, senators could talk as long as they wanted.

What didn’t change was the number of votes needed to fast-track a bill. A proposal to lower the bar from the current two-thirds majority requirement failed, meaning it still takes the approval of 31 of the state’s 46 senators to speed up the path a bill takes through the chamber.

The tweaks seem a good compromise, at least for now, speeding up the process a bit, but not too much.

Many legislators will admit that the House’s faster process can often lead to bills being passed that haven’t been completely thought through and without consideration of all their ramifications. There’s benefit in having one chamber that moves a little slower, to minimize the number of poorly conceived ideas that become state law only to have to be amended or repealed later.

At the same time, the pace that the Senate had been setting was frustratingly slow. When it adjourned this past June, it left behind 80 pages of bills that were never even debated. As Senate President Pro Tem John Courson told The State newspaper, that statistic is “just absurd.”

While we don’t expect the Senate to find the time to debate every measure (some bills were still being introduced in the last days of the session), major legislation deserves the chance to at least be discussed.

Limiting the bills a senator can block and cutting down on long introductory speeches should accomplish the goal of moving the process a little faster but without speeding it up so much that there’s no longer time to debate all the consequences.

The rules can always be changed again if they don’t achieve the desired results this session, but this is a good place to start.

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